Missional Synchroblog: The Skinny on Missional

Missional. I lost my job because of “missional”. I will tell you how in a second but, first thing, before i start whining over losing my job at the Baptist Convention of Texas, welcome to the missional synchroblog, organized by Rick at Blind Beggar. My entry is one of the latest (stuck in Aberdeen due to airport strike, stayed in youth hostel and said no to their £5 an hour internet rate) so I am adding my thoughts to what others have said and then am giving a medley on what i have said about this word over the past 5 years.


Like Alan Hirsch, I have preferred the term “emerging-missional church” and I agree the name “missional” is not foolproof

In fact, I lost my job because of a so called ‘missional’ transition. BGCT, who I still love and remember fondly my 8 years of mission service, and have no hard feelings against whatsover (they gave me plenty of warning and treated me respectfully throughout the process), decided to annex their entire church multiplication department, including myself, in the name of becoming “missional” and attempting to put the impetus for mission back in the megachurches. To be honest, I didn’t think that decision was the most strategic. If the megachurches are the ones who now carry the torch for mission, where are the apostles who scout out the needs and help the church send out its people beyond its borders, over cultural barriers, and outside their comfort zone? Who will fight for the mission projects that will not immediately pay back into the system or will prove to offer a better alternative to the megachurches? Does being missional really mean firing the missionaries and adding their budget to the biggest churches?

I love the word missional but it still has some problems:

1. It is often dumbed down by people who confuse it with “evangelistic” or “mission-minded”

2. It has often been purged by some evangelicals of its connections to the global mission movement (read ‘Ecumenical’) and given a newer and more acceptable face.

3. It has sometimes been co-opted by aggressive and competitive white males to drive resources to the programs that beef up their own churches.

4. It suffers from a compulsive activism, as if God was a workaholic who constantly drives on his team and never rests from his labours.

5. It lacks an immediate connection with worship which might be the flip side and a necessary balance.

Having said that, its also true that missional is the word of the moment and has recieved great acceptance. I am proud to use it and have done so for a long time. Here is a little medley of my posts on this word over the last 5 years:

Newbiginsmissionalshampoo-TmThe word “missional”, until I am proven wrong [again], was coined by the Brits in 1883 and lay quite dormant until revived by missiologist Francis DuBois in the early 80’s. Francis and I worked together in San Francisco in the mid 90’s, when i ran the Page Street Baptist Center that he had started many years ago. Interesting story – a missional story that is – the feeding program we took over and grew ended up becoming a community, organized by its own people and led by Eric Bergquist who took over from me and is doing a fantastic job. Sorry – didnt mean to namedrop or start telling stories.

Anyway, excuse the diversion. A century ago, people began to talk about missions at home and not just overseas. This thinking was later informed by the trinitarian emphasis of Karl Barth and emerged quite strongly at the 1952 International Missionary Convention in Willingen, a German town so small that even my German friend Andreas Wolf asked me yesterday, over breakfast in Norway, where the heck Willingen was or if it really existed. [Sorry]. Karl Hartenstein nailed it in 1954 with the Latin term Missio Dei (the mission of God) which drew meaning from the German term ‘Mission Gottes’ and stressed the idea that mission is God’s initiative and the church is a participant in this mission rather than the originator. Lesslie Newbigin was also a participant at Willingen and would later be a major figure in bringing attention to the idea of missions in our own post-Christian cultures. His writings inspired some North Americans to explore the same themes under the Gospel in Our Culture Network. One of the books published was called The Missional Church and the name gained currency in USA. Further study was done by Milfred Minnatrea, who also lost his job in the missional shift at BGCT, in his book called Shaped by God’s Heart. Milfred showed the word “missional” had reappeared in the writings of Charles Van Engen in 1991. Van Engen actually taught my wife at Fuller School of World Mission. Sorry – there I go again.

One day I will show you a missions book from Lesslie Newbigin’s library that is now in mine. And yes, he had signed it and underlined key passages!

But I diverge from shameless name-dropping to finish this post. During these last two decades, the word emerged in UK as “mission-shaped” thanks to my ex-DAWN buddy Bob Hopkins and Bishop Graham Cray and some others. But the meaning was essentially the same, except the UK focus on “mission shaped” carried that incarnational idea that the new or emerging church is shaped by the context it enters. Read about it here.

I have blogged my thoughts many times so I wont repeat myself. But I will say that the most exciting thing I have read recently has been from Chris Wright who, in his excellent book “The Mission of God”, calls for a missional hermeneutic .

In his book, Chris’s draws from the gains of contextual hermeneutics “as against the rather blinkered view of theology that developed in the West since the Enlightenment, which liked to claim it was scientific, objective, rational and free from either confessional presuppostions or theological interests, theologies that declare such disinterested objectivity to be a myth – and a dangerous one in that it concealed hegemonic claims.” (The Mission of God, page 42) . . to become an “interested” missiology that goes beyond contextual [and liberationist] hermeneutics by offering to subsume both readings into itself. Chris puts forward a missional hermeneutic as a contextual, holistic, coherent framework that finds its center in Christ himself who opened the minds of his disciples so they could understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:45) “In other words, Jesus himself provided the hermeneutical coherence within which all disciples must read these texts, that is, in the light of the story that leads up to Christ (messianic reading) and the story that leads on from Christ (missional reading). That is the story that flows from the mind and purpose of God in all the Scriptures for all the nations. That is a missional hermeneutic of the whole Bible.” (The Mission of God, page 41)

From here, you can view what others said about the word “missional”.

The Missional Synchroblog team:

Alan Hirsch Alan Knox Andrew Jones Barb Peters Bill Kinnon Brad Brisco Brad Grinnen Brad Sargent Brother Maynard Bryan Riley Chad Brooks Chris Wignall Cobus Van Wyngaard Dave DeVries David Best David Fitch David Wierzbicki DoSi Doug Jones Duncan McFadzean Erika Haub Grace Jamie Arpin-Ricci Jeff McQuilkin John Smulo Jonathan Brink JR Rozko Kathy Escobar Len Hjalmarson Makeesha Fisher Malcolm Lanham Mark Berry Mark Petersen Mark Priddy Michael Crane Michael Stewart Nick Loyd Patrick Oden Peggy Brown Phil Wyman Richard Pool Rick Meigs Rob Robinson Ron Cole Scott Marshall Sonja Andrews Stephen Shields Steve Hayes Tim Thompson Thom Turner

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Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Okay Andrew, that’s all well and good, but you left out one *very* important bit… *which* book from Newbigin’s library???
    Oh, and as an aside — I like your 5 points of contention with the word “missional”. I think the 5th is perhaps an insightful corrective, but I wouldn’t mind hearing some further elaboration on the 4th point.

  • andrew says:

    hi bro m. this blog post is way too long to elaborate on anything.
    but i will say that the book i have from section II of Lesslie’s library is called Uppsala to Nairobi: 1968-1975 Report of the Central Committee to the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, edited by David Johnson.
    I am sure most everybody already has a copy or two of this book but my copy has Newbigin’s underlines, crosses and ticks so I feel i can confidently say “yes, Bishop Newbiggin approved that paragraph” or perhaps “Sorry, Bishop says no!”

  • Steve Hayes says:

    Thqanks for the history of the term, which I found connected a few dots for me — and you can’t really do history without namedropping, so that’s OK too.

  • Ted says:

    Good post Andrew. Thanks.

  • Nathan says:

    Great post. I am intrigued by your critique #5, mission and worship, being discussed a bit in my denomination. Any links to further discussions about that? Cheers.

  • andrew says:

    i was thinking of John Piper when i wrote that – and his thoughts on the priority of worship.

  • kathyescobar says:

    andrew, well i am a little behind on reading some of these posts! i love your list of 5 potential problems with missional, especially #3 and 4….thanks for sharing

  • Curt Grice says:

    Andrew… thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ve stumbled onto your site as I searched for commentary on Dr. DuBose’ book, “God Who Sends,” having first read it as a seminary student back in 1985, shortly after its release. Sorry for the fall out with the BGCT, but GOD is always up to something and we catch glimpses of it here and there, often when we least expect it! Keep up the good work…

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